Amanda Anisimova knows how to win against Aryna Sabalenka. The latest chapter in the pair's head-to-head rivalry was written Thursday at the Mutua Madrid Open, where Anisimova's 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory ended Sabalenka's title defense in the opening round.
Anisimova's 1-hour, 55-minute victory extended her record against Sabalenka to 4-0, with three of those wins coming on clay. The American was also winless in two prior trips to Madrid, having lost in the first round of qualifying in 2019 and at the first hurdle of the main draw last year.
"It's always enjoyable to accept the challenge, even when it's a tough match, and push yourself and see how far you can go," Anisimova said in victory. "I enjoy these matches, even though they're very tough ... especially when you get to win them."
Match management: Anisimova lived up to that assessment by admirably responded to adversity late in the match; after losing a 4-1 lead in the decider, and eight straight points across three consecutive games, she won eight of the last 10 points.
Next up: Anisimova advances to a second-round meeting with Croatia's Petra Martic, who was a 7-6(6), 6-1 winner over Stuttgart semifinalist Liudmila Samsonova. The pair have split two career meetings.
Highlights: Martic def. Samsonova
"She's a tough player as well," Anisimova added. "Every match here is going to be tough, so I'm just going to go out and play my tennis, and hopefully, I can get through it."
Bencic, Gauff roll into Round 2; Pliskova, Ostapenko upset
There were better fortunes for two other seeded players in Belinda Bencic and Coco Gauff, each of whom eased into Round 2 with straight-set victories against a pair of qualifiers.
No. 11 seed Bencic dropped only five games against Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu and won nine of the last 11 games in a 6-4, 6-1 victory. Unbeaten on clay this spring in seven matches so far, the Charleston champion moves on to face Karolina Muchova in the second round.
In her second trip to the Caja Magica, Gauff earned her first-career win in Madrid with a 6-0, 6-2 triumph over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in exactly an hour. In victory, Gauff won the first eight games of the match and was never broken.
The teenager made her tournament debut last year, but was beaten in the first round by Karolina Pliskova.
Speaking of Pliskova, the No.5 seed was beaten in her opening round match by compatriot Marie Bouzkova, 6-4, 7-5, another qualifier. The loss drops Pliskova to 2-5 on her season so far, while Bouzkova now boasts five career wins against Top 10 players.
In total, three Top 10 seeds were beaten late in the day on Thursday, as Ekaterina Alexandrova knocked out No.10 seed Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Since winning nine straight matches in February to win the title in Dubai and reach the semifinals in Doha, Ostapenko has lost her last four.